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A day trip to Rottnest Island

Coral reefs, shimmering lakes and pristine beaches – this is the perfect one-day itinerary on Wadjemup / Rottnest Island.
6 minutes
Mary Cove
Mary Cove

Just a short ferry ride away from Perth and with an abundance of activities from cycling to snorkelling, and exploring history, there’s something for everyone to experience in as little as a day on Rottnest Island.

This day trip connects you with the best of Wadjemup / Rottnest Island, by bike or by bus. You’ll visit some of the island’s most picturesque beaches, snorkel or swim in turquoise waters, take in the view from Wadjemup Lighthouse and West End, and spot resident quokkas along the way.

7 am All aboard the ferry

With just one day to explore, set your alarm early and hop on the first ferry you can. There are three operators running ferries to and from the island – Rottnest Express, Rottnest Fast Ferries and SeaLink – so find the departure point and timetable that suits you best. Be sure to book the latest return too, so you have plenty of time to soak up the Rottnest Island day trip experience. Departing from Hillarys, Perth or Fremantle, your adventure starts on the ferry. Watch the coastline stretch out behind you and keep your eyes peeled for marine life like dolphins, seals and even whales from August to December.

9 am Getting ready to adventure

The ferry arrives at the Thomson Bay settlement, where you’ll find cafes, shops and transport options. Take a moment to pause at the commanding sculpture at the island end of the main jetty, Koora-Yeye-Boordawan-Kalyakoorl (Past-Present-Future-Forever), which explains the significance of the island to the Whadjuk Noongar people.

Head over to Pedal & Flipper Hire to collect your bike and any extra equipment like a snorkel set. If you’re not cycling, head to the ticket booth at the main bus stop to get your Quokka Coaches Island Explorer bus pass. This hop-on-hop-off service circumnavigates the island giving you the freedom to explore as you please. Alternatively, if you like the idea of cycling but don’t want to commit, try the bike and bus package with Pedal & Flipper Hire. You can cycle as far as you like and once you’ve had enough, just leave your bike in one of the racks around the island and take the bus for the rest of the journey.

If you’re planning on having lunch at one of the beautiful bays and beaches around the island, either get something from the General Store or grab a takeaway from one of the many cafes and pop it in your bag for later. Be sure to fill up your water bottle before you leave the settlement as well. There are limited water points once you’ve left Thomson Bay.


10 am Time to explore

Starting out, head south towards Kingstown Barracks and some of the most picturesque beaches on the island. Choose between Parker Point, Little Salmon Bay and Salmon Bay — all perfect to admire the gorgeous view, take a walk on the sand or hop in the water for a refreshing swim. Little Salmon Bay is a snorkeller’s paradise and even has a seasonal marine snorkel trail, with interpretative signage under the water. 

There’s a huge variety of marine life along the island coastline. If you want to experience this mesmerising underwater world, check out our guide to snorkelling.

After this stop, it’s time to head to the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the centre of the island. Constructed in 1896 and standing at approximately 38 metres, this landmark is the fourth tallest lighthouse in Australia. Admire the breathtaking views of sparkling water and Perth City in the distance. On a clear day you can make out the pine trees that line the coast at Cottesloe. 

Take your time to explore the other buildings in the precinct — the Signal Station, the Battery Observation Post and the Women’s Royal Australian Navy Service House — all linked by self-guided interpretive signage. 

Continue along the southern side of the island past Green Island and Mary Cove. As you move to the western most part of the island you’ll notice the landscape looking more rugged and wild. 


1 pm Rest and refuel

Stopping off at West End, it’s time for a pause; take a deep breath and soak up the salty atmosphere at this special part of the island. The alluring Indian Ocean shimmers and stretches before you, all the way to Madagascar. 

There are viewing platforms at Cathedral Rocks and Cape Vlamingh where you can watch the long-nosed fur seals gently frolicking in the water, or observe the majestic osprey in its nest. You’ve probably built up an appetite by now, so take a break at one of these beautiful spots to soak up the views and refuel, in mind and body. Lexi’s on Rotto is close to hand, providing extra drinks and snacks to energise you for the afternoon.

2 pm Beaches and lakes

The northern side of the island is a feast for the eyes, whether seen by bike or bus. This spectacular stretch is dotted with more beautiful beaches and snorkelling spots. Take your pick from Ricey Beach, Little Armstrong Bay or Geordie Bay for an afternoon in solitude on the beach. Geordie Bay is also home to a General Store and Geordie's Café & Art Gallery, so it’s a great place to stop for afternoon refreshments.

Stop off to visit the unique salt lakes on the island’s interior, meandering through the colourful lakes and native Wadjemup bush. You can walk part of the Gabbi Karniny Bidi (a 9.5 km loop) from Parakeet Bay or Geordie Bay or if you’re on a bicycle, you can ride down Defence Road to the Lakes Boardwalk. These wetlands are a haven for birdlife too, so look out for banded stilts, crested terns and red-capped plovers on Lake Herschel and Lake Baghdad.

The bus will head back to the main settlement, but those cycling can continue to stay on the coastal track, rounding the corner to see The Basin. With its shallow clear waters and protective reef, this is an ideal spot for a final swim or snorkel. Continue towards Pinky Beach and then walk up to Bathurst Lighthouse for some impressive views over the ocean, reflecting on your adventurous day trip. 

5 pm A relaxed evening

After your adventures around the island, it’s time for a celebratory drink and an early dinner. Enjoy classic fish and chips or some locally caught seafood at one of the restaurants in the settlement, paired with a craft beer or renowned Western Australian wine.

Now’s a great time to spot a quokka, if you haven’t already throughout the day. As nocturnal creatures, they become more active in the afternoon and evening. 

As your Rottnest Island day trip draws to a close, there’s just enough time to catch an island sunset. Watch the changing sky in Thomson Bay, or head back to Pinky Beach to see the sky light up behind the iconic Bathurst Lighthouse. Just be sure to head back to the main jetty 15 minutes before your ferry, farewelling Wadjemup until you visit again.


Remember quokkas are wild animals and you are visiting their home, so rather than approach, simply observe them from a respectable distance.